50 years of PMQs: the best moments

The best videos, including "Stalin to Mr Bean", "we saved the world" and "calm down, dear!"

This week marks 50 years since the first PMQs (Harold Macmillan vs. Hugh Gaitskell, since you ask). So, by way of celebration, here are some of the most memorable moments from the weekly joust.

Blair on Major: "weak, weak, weak"

Here, from his clashes with John Major, are two of Tony Blair's most artful put-downs. In the first clip from 25 May 1995, the young Labour leader taunts Major's inability to control his anti-European backbenchers. "There is one very big difference - I lead my party, he follows his." Major later described it in his memoirs as "the best one-liner he ever used against me".

In the second from 30 January 1997 (again concerning Europe), Blair brands Major "weak, weak, weak" for failing to impose a joint line on the euro.

Cameron to Blair: "you were the future once"

And here's the "heir to Blair" in action at his first PMQs, telling his rival "you were the future once" and reprimanding the Labour chief whip for "shouting like a child".

Cable on Brown: "Stalin to Mr Bean"

It was Andrew Turnball, the former head of the civil service, who declared in March 2007 that Gordon Brown operated with "Stalinist ruthlessness". But eight months later, after a run on Northern Rock, the loss of 25 million child benefit records and another donations scandal, the description no longer seemed so appropriate. Vince Cable, then acting leader of the Lib Dems, caught the mood when he quipped that Brown had gone "from Stalin to Mr Bean" in a matter of weeks.

Brown: "we saved the world"

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman memorably asked: "Has Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, saved the world financial system?" and answered in the affirmative. But Krugman's praise appeared to have gone to Brown's head when he told the Commons: "we saved the world". His humourless response (Blair would have quipped "we'll get round to that later") only made matters worse.

Cameron to Angela Eagle: "calm down, dear!"

Finally, from earlier this year, here's Cameron's ill-advised riposte to Angela Eagle. For an idea of how the remark went down with the Lib Dems, just contrast Nick Clegg's stony face with George Osborne's guffawing.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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As the strangers approach the bed, I wonder if this could be a moment of great gentleness

I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do.

It’s 1.13am on an autumn morning some time towards the end of the 20th century and I’m awake in a vast hotel bed in a small town in the east of England. The mysterious east, with its horizons that seem to stretch further than they should be allowed to stretch by law. I can’t sleep. My asthma is bad and I’m wheezing. The clock I bought for £3 many years earlier ticks my life away with its long, slow music. The street light outside makes the room glow and shimmer.

I can hear footsteps coming down the corridor – some returning drunks, I guess, wrecked on the reef of a night on the town. I gaze at the ceiling, waiting for the footsteps to pass.

They don’t pass. They stop outside my door. I can hear whispering and suppressed laughter. My clock ticks. I hear a key card being presented, then withdrawn. The door opens slowly, creaking like a door on a Radio 4 play might. The whispering susurrates like leaves on a tree.

It’s an odd intrusion, this, as though somebody is clambering into your shirt, taking their time. A hotel room is your space, your personal kingdom. I’ve thrown my socks on the floor and my toothbrush is almost bald in the bathroom even though there’s a new one in my bag because I thought I would be alone in my intimacy.

Two figures enter. A man and a woman make their way towards the bed. In the half-dark, I can recognise the man as the one who checked me in earlier. He says, “It’s all right, there’s nobody in here,” and the woman laughs like he has just told her a joke.

This is a moment. I feel like I’m in a film. It’s not like being burgled because this isn’t my house and I’m sure they don’t mean me any harm. In fact, they mean each other the opposite.

Surely they can hear my clock dripping seconds? Surely they can hear me wheezing?

They approach, closer and closer, towards the bed. The room isn’t huge but it seems to be taking them ages to cross it. I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do. I should speak. I should say with authority, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” But I don’t.

I could just lie here, as still as a book, and let them get in. It could be a moment of great gentleness, a moment between strangers. I would be like a chubby, wheezing Yorkshire pillow between them. I could be a metaphor for something timeless and unspoken.

They get closer. The woman reaches her hand across the bed and she touches the man’s hand in a gesture of tenderness so fragile that it almost makes me sob.

I sit up and shout, “Bugger off!” and they turn and run, almost knocking my clock from the bedside table. The door crashes shut shakily and the room seems to reverberate.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge